Chicago, IL—It took nearly a year for financial powerhouse JP Morgan Chase & Co. to track down 19th-century records showing two predecessor banks in Louisiana owned slaves who were used as collateral for loans.
JP Morgan Chase, which merged with Bank One last July, apologized Thursday in a letter to 120,000 employees written by the company’s top executives that acknowledged ties to slavery before the U.S. Civil War, and the bank announced a $5 million college scholarship fund for Louisiana students.
Disclosure of the bank’s historical ties to slavery came 10 months after Alderman Dorothy Tillman, who marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement, accused JP Morgan Chase of lying when it denied having any direct connection with slavery.
Tillman convened historic City Council hearings in 2002 that led to Chicago passing a resolution calling for congressional hearings on reparations for descendants of African-American slaves.
In 3,500 hours of searching records of 300 predecessor institutions, History Associates, a Maryland research firm hired by JP Morgan Chase, found two Louisiana banks founded in the 1830s accepted 13,000 slaves as collateral on loans from 1831 until 1865 and took ownership of 1,250 slaves on defaulted loans to plantation owners in East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge and Ascension parishes.
The banks merged in 1924 to form Canal Commercial Trust & Savings Bank. The filing listed some Louisiana slaveholders by name along with names of many of their slaves.
“Slavery was a brutal and unjust institution,” said the letter signed by JP Morgan Chase’s Harrison and Chief Operating Officer Jamie Dimon. “We apologize to the African-American community particularly those who are descendants of slaves, and to the rest of the American public for the role that Citizens Bank and Canal Bank played. The slavery era was a tragic time in U.S. history and our company’s history.”
The Canal Bank failed in 1933 during the Great Depression, and its deposits were placed in The National Bank of Commerce of New Orleans, which later became the First National Bank of Commerce. Bank One acquired First National Bank of Commerce in 1998.
The “Smart Start Louisiana” scholarship program for in-state African-American students is modeled after JP Morgan Chase’s “Smart Start” minority scholarship program in New York, which awards undergraduate scholarships based on need and merit.
Even though JP Morgan Chase said nothing about the role of Peabody Co. during the slave era, its admission predecessor institutions owned slaves is unprecedented in modern U.S. business history.
JP Morgan Chase’s letter said while everyone knows slavery existed in the United States “it is quite different to see how our history and the institution of slavery were intertwined. Slavery was tragically ingrained in American society, but that is no excuse.”